Avolition: Any Takers?

imgres

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and he touched on something that shared my sentiments.

He said “Someone needs to write a book on Motivation”. I agree with a hearty amen!

Whenever someone does venture to write such a title, they should also consider writing a book on “Avolition”. If depression is a common struggle, then avolition would be just as common. Avolition is one of the worst symptoms of depression. It’s one of those “odd filters” .

The DSM provides a pretty simple description of it, saying that it is a “psychological state” characterized by a “general lack of drive to perform activities or pursue meaningful goals”.

When I read that definition, I almost laughed at the brevity of the term. After that I nearly wept, because the term was insufficient to communicate the gravity of the actual experience.

All this to say, I neither laughed or wept. I didn’t have it in me. That’s Avolition.

Avolition is a characteristic of people who suffer depression. It’s that affective “flattening” of emotion. It’s when people say “I can’t feel anything”, but no one hears, because it gets absorbed into the black hole of the perception of apathy.  Avolitionists can’t tell whether or not you care, so they stop trying to speak. They lack energy as it is, so they aren’t going to spend it all on the treadmill of purposelessness.

I mean, who would want to be around such a downer? Avolitionism knew you’d think something along those lines. They’re mind readers. Like Micah, they say; “Woe is me…all of (the people) lie in wait for bloodshed; Each of them hunts the other with a net.” (Micah 7:1-2) Paranoid much? What’s their deal?

Avolitionists are wearied by their own cynicism.
Tired of being ignored, they remove themselves from social gatherings
Tired of being misunderstood,  They quit explaining.
Avolition prophecies rejection, and so they set out to prove its fulfillment

Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.

He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. (Jer 17:5-6)

Avolition knows this from experience: “Cursed is the man!”  That will preach! If anything avolition needs to be carried to God’s Word to complete the thought. You see, Jeremiah 17:5-6 anticipates Jeremiah 17:7-8;

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

This is the beginning of the remedy to avolition.

Depression and Your Social Life

images

in all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; (eph 6:16

One of the most horrific features of depression is the corrosive effect it has on our [my] social life. Along with anxiety, depression can eat away friendships like the swarms of locusts ate away the egyptian agriculture (Exo 10:15). I do not think depression is necessarily sinful in and of itself (at least, not until I experience one of those knock-down-drag-out seasons of it). Depression, however, is a product of the sinful world we live in. It was necessary for Jesus to experience  depression and anxiety (Mark 14:34; Matt 26:38; Isa 53:3,4,12), but He did so without sin (Heb 2:18; 4:15). It was necessary for Him to suffer so that He could be the perfect mediator between God and Man (1 Tim 2:5). This is one of the reasons a distinction is necessary between sin and suffering.

Even though suffering is the “theological seminary”  God uses to sanctify and train us in our obedience (my major is depression [Heb 5:8-9]), Satan would enjoy turning it into a “theological cemetery”  (Job 1:11-12; 1 Peter 5:8-9). My  depression in combination with my  sinful heart can (and will) make for easy prey for the devil’s schemes against God. Let it be known that we are still responsible for the sins that we commit. So even though we are victims, we are also culprits.

Because God created us in His image, everything we are and everything we do is directly relative to Him, and others. This is the reason scripture is so concerned with how we interact with one another (in both Old and New Testaments).

As I “listen”  to my worst bouts of depression, most of the sound stems from issues I’ve had with other people. Whether  they’ve offended me, or I’ve offended them, my concerns fixate themselves on what the person is thinking and feeling. In my effort to “fix” my own problems, the paradigm shifts away from my duty to love/trust/fear  “the LORD who brought me out of the land of slavery” (Exo 20:2;Isa 61:1;Luk 4:18;Eph 4:8), toward a love/trust/fear of man (Prov 29:25; Jer 17:5; Isa 2:22; Psa 118:8; Isa 30:1). The love of God is powerful in that it teaches us how to love. Knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus is necessary to loving others (2 Cor 5:14). His love sets the correct  pattern.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  (1 John 4:10)
“We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Augustine makes this point beautifully;

But living a just and holy life requires one to……  love things… in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally. (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28)

The biggest threat to love, according to Augustine is when “We fix our love on the creature, instead of on thee, the Creator” . This is why Augustine prayed that God would “Set love in order in me.”  (City of God, XV.22).

My depression often is the target of the fiery darts of satan, however I remain unconvinced that it is the result of the devil and his minions in its totality . Hooligans coming by and tagging buildings doesn’t  provide reason to believe that it belongs to them.

Depression can be a helpful indicator to idolatry, and it very well may be why God, in His Divine care and providence  has blessed me with it. Due to the perception of isolation (from both God and people) I’m  reminded of who I was made to be. No matter how small my social failures, their loud resonance within my heart impresses on me my primary need, which is The LORD.  God uses depression to strip me of the fig leaves I use to cover my failure and shame, and remind me of His Son. I get prideful, and in my pride I forget about the LORD (1 Sam 12:9; Jud 8:34; 2 Chron 26:16). When I make the mistake of the man named “YHWH is my strength” [Uzziah], God kindly reminds me of His name: “The LORD our Righteousness” and “Savior” (Jeremiah 23:6; Matt 1:21)

Earlier on, I indicated that I asked God to remove this melancholic tendency. I still ask God to remove it. Then I wait for Him to answer

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 
(Psa 22:1)

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? “ (Psa 13:1-2)

But God reminds me that my sin is the bigger problem (Love needs to be set in order!) .  It certainly doesn’t take away from the experience of  slipping down  into the slough of feeling unwanted, unimportant, self-anger, socially exhausted, untrusted, hopeless insignificant, empty, worthless, and some sort of combination of all of these things (Psa 73:2; Psa 94:18), but even so His “unfailing love, LORD, support[s] me”.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

The Emotional Turbulence of Depression

This is an addendum (Section III)  to “Life Under the Influence of Depression” .  I have temporarily made it a separate post. 

The central issue of  my depression is the untrustworthiness of my emotional states. Generally speaking, it is out of sync with the reality of the situation. To the people who say “well yes, feelings are no guide to truth”, let it be known that I agree. However, let me state that the problem is elsewhere.

The problem is this; that one can be in agreement with any truth, whatsoever,  but the emotions (or desires)  continually  demand that you go another direction.  The problem with depression is that you can know something to be true, yet go a very long time without feeling something to be true.

I will call it the principle of cognitive dissonance (PCD):

definitions:
Someone = S
Proposition = P
Mind = M
Emotions = E
(exclusive) logic disjunction = v

PCD:
1. S believes P with M
2. S disbelieves P with E
3.M v  E
4. P is true
So,
5. S  holds to the truth of P with M at the expense of E.

I think that the problem of sin causes everyone to experience this disturbance to one degree or another. However, it seems that this struggle is magnified in depression. In my experience  it has lead to seasons where I  distrust my emotions so much, that I experience emotional numbness (to some degree).

Dr. Edward Welch, a christian counselor who is also a licensed neuropsychologist, provides an encouragement to people who have this experience:

“Depression demands another way to live (Hebrews 11:1)….Even though I’ve been a believer for decades, I still live by how I feel. Depressed people encounter feelings and say, ‘why bother, there’s nothing good.’ These feelings demand a radical call to live by faith, rather than by sight. When a depressed person lives by sight, everything is dark.”

Could it be that the Christian’s faith goes beyond the dark and thick smog of the emotional interpretation? I think the Word of God speaks directly to that (Psa 22:1; Psalm 31:11, Psalm 38:11, Job 19:13, Lam 3:1-2) . It is a struggle to remember that faith can “speak the hard things from our hearts to the Lord.” We don’t have to ignore our feelings or pretend that they aren’t there, because God isn’t surprised by them. He speaks to them!

I think the biggest struggle here (at least for me) is the way I relate to others in spite of my emotions. I am required to love others, in spite of this ongoing war in my heart.  Even with the ongoing emotional burnout, I am called to think the best of others (1 Cor 13:4-8). My failure in all of these areas drives me to question the genuineness of my faith. Again, this introspection only leads to more depression.

But scripture acknowledges these differing seasons and experiences  among the the psalmist(s) where “lover and friend” are far (Psalm 88:1), where they are the “object of dread among the closest friends (Psalm 31:11), where “friends and companions avoid [them] because of [their] wounds” (Psalm 38:11)

I think the ambiguity of the nature of the experience in question provides a welcome to every sufferer in the LORD (2 Cor 1:5; Phil 3:10). In the my experience, it’s all too easy to read scorn, ridicule, anger, and/or dread into family, friends, and neighbors when in fact they do not feel that way about you at all. Due to the constant strain of stress, your emotions begin shaping the way you think, and the feelings resemble facts. Sadness, bitterness, and anger become the lens from which you read things.

Faith in Christ, in light of this, is going  to Him to interpret those experiences in light of His own interpretation, because I’ve heard His Word (Rom 10:12-13,17). Repentance takes the painful “limp” of walking contrary to the imperatives of those loud emotional experiences (Eph 2:8-10). Grace is God’s pursuit of us and rescue  from that dungeon of despair (Lam 3:22).

This is the newest  addition to “Life Under the Influence of Depression” .